Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series exploring land ownership near Honolulu’s proposed 20-mile elevated rail line. The data for the series was produced for Civil Beat by Hawaii Information Service, a public records and real estate data firm.

UPDATED 10/14/11 12:01 a.m. CORRECTION:

This article has been updated to reflect the definition of land ownership used by Hawaii Information Service in determining which entities own land along the rail line. For the purposes of this report, land ownership is both fee simple and leasehold. An earlier version of this article gave the erroneous impression that all the land owners held fee simple title to their property. That is not the case. For example, Aloun Farms holds leases on its land. It does not own it outright.

Introduction

With all the talk about billions of dollars in construction costs and the financial health of an Italian defense and aeronautics conglomerate, sometimes it’s tough to remember what the Honolulu rail project is all about.

The project is part of a bigger plan, specifically the Oahu General Plan, which has long called for development in the Ewa Plain and the “second city,” Kapolei. Ten, 20 or 40 years from now, what will that part of the island look like? How will our lives change with rail?

A big piece of the equation is so-called “transit-oriented development” (“TOD”). Proponents say high-density growth along the line will prevent urban sprawl and help keep the country country. Conspiracy-minded opponents say helping developers get rich is the real motivation for the project.

Whatever your opinion of rail, we can all generally agree that the system is going to have major impacts.
Throughout this series, we’re going to be looking at the area around each of the 21 stations planned as part of the first 20-mile segment of the transit system, from East Kapolei to Ala Moana.

With the help of our partners at Hawaii Information Service, we’ll be able to tell you who owns1 land near the stations and what it’s currently used for. We can also look at the city’s own TOD plans to see what might be built near each station. That will help us start to understand who stands to get rich, who stands to be displaced, and how the island will change as a result of rail.

East Kapolei

Much like the rail system itself, our series is going to start in the West and head toward downtown Honolulu. Because the first three stations — East Kapolei, UH West Oahu and Hoopili — have similar land uses and some overlap in ownership, we thought we’d take them together.

One leasehold landowner more than any other dominates the landscape near the future East Kapolei station — Aloun Farms. Brothers Mike and Alec Sou lease land that is at the center of the controversy over the proposed Hoopili development, which would take land that they lease and turn it into thousands of homes. (More on that later.)

Aloun holds leases on more than 17 million square feet of land within 3,000 feet of East Kapolei Station — nearly 400 acres of the 600 total acres that are within that radius. Only seven other entities own even a single acre near East Kapolei: the State of Hawaii (71 acres); the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (67); Hawaiian Golf Properties (30); Mutual Housing Association of Hawaii (18); Salvation Army (15); City and County of Honolulu (three); and Kapolei Peoples Inc. (one).

Alec Sou told Civil Beat that the leases are short-term. He said Aloun’s holdings on Department of Hawaiian Home Lands land is down to about 70 acres from more than 400, and that its 300 acres on UH-West Oahu land will be down to 40 acres in December. It still leases nearly 1,100 acres from D.R. Horton-Schuler Homes, but will have to renegotiate that if it wants to stay after the contract ends in the summer of 2013.

“With Horton, it’s at least a working relationship,” Sou said. “With the state and DHHL it’s more of a mandate.”

As you might expect in a situation where the largest landowner is a working farm, the vast majority of the land is in agriculture — 71 percent, to be exact. Other uses include Park (11 percent); Road (9 percent); and Residential (9 percent).

This is what opponents are talking about when they say rail is starting in a green field. A half-century from now, it’s quite possible the area immediately surrounding that train station will no longer be a functioning farm.

More than two and a half years ago, the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting began its work on transit-oriented development for the East Kapolei, UH West Oahu and Hoopili stations. The planning process included three community workshops in 2009 and 2010.

The end product is the “East Kapolei Neighborhood TOD Plan” that went out for public review in April 2010. The Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting says the review is still pending. The plan includes transit-oriented development plans within a quarter-mile of each of the three stations — things like “medium density, multi-family developments along with mix-use buildings with apartments or condos over ground-floor retail.” Outside that radius but within the half-mile “transit-influenced zones” (“TIZ”) are things like “low-density townhouses, apartments, and single family environments.”

Here’s how the landscape could one day look:

Source: City and County of Honolulu

The vast majority of the land is currently used for agriculture, but that will change. The TOD and TIZ zones could allow a slew of activities not generally permitted on agricultural land.2 Compare the city’s proposed land use map for the East Kapolei station (below) with the map found at the top of this article, which represents current land uses.

Source: City and County of Honolulu

UH West Oahu

Because the 3,000-foot circles around each station overlap, we can’t roll up the acreage into one total for the first three stations combined. So let’s take the second station — University of Hawaii West Oahu Campus — separately. We’ll do Hoopili last in this article.

There are only five sizable landowners within 3,000 feet of the UH West Oahu station, according to Hawaii Information Service data. They are Aloun Farms (296 acres); D.R. Horton-Schuler Homes (219 acres); A M Enterprises (43); Sugarland Farms (43); and the State of Hawaii (39). Nobody else owns even an acre.

Much like the East Kapolei station, most of the land near UH West Oahu is currently in agriculture. In fact, nearly 94 percent is agriculture, and the remaining 6 percent is in roads.

And much like East Kapolei, UH West Oahu is going to change. Compare the land use map in the TOD plan versus the current (all-green) circle at the top of the page.

Source: City and County of Honolulu

Hoopili

A short distance away, the land ownership picture narrows even more. Of all the acres within 3,000 feet of the proposed Hoopili rail station, just three entities hold even a small amount — D.R. Horton-Schuler Homes with 631 acres, followed by Hawaiian Electric Co. (nine acres) and the City and County of Honolulu (less than an acre), according to Hawaii Information Service data.

The area surrounding the future Hoopili rail station is even more devoted to agriculture than the previous two stations, if that’s possible — more than 97 percent of the acreage is agriculture, with about 1 percent each covered by roads and commercial use. And like the first two stations, that could change dramatically.

The plans for the land surrounding Hoopili are no secret. D.R. Horton-Schuler Homes is about to start its hearing at the Hawaii Land Use Commission that will determine if about 1,500 acres can be moved into the urban land use district so the company can build nearly 12,000 homes and five schools in the area.

Here’s what the land use map could one day look like:

Source: City and County of Honolulu

We’ve covered the Hoopili proposal extensively:

In the first story in this series, Hoopili executive Cameron Nekota explained that while the development will take advantage of rail, it’s not dependent on the train system for survival.

“We call ourselves a transit-ready project. We’re planning for it, but that’s not to say that our project doesn’t work without rail,” Nekota said when asked what the train means to Hoopili and his company. Even if rail doesn’t happen, the community can work with buses. But D.R. Horton is rooting for rail to happen.

“It certainly is an enhancement to not just our community but the whole area if it does go through. We certainly see the value that rail gives to the whole community,” Nekota said.


Previous stories in this series:


  1. For the purposes of this article, ownership means either fee simple or leasehold ownership. Fee simple ownership means ownership of an entire property. Leasehold ownership means a buyer owns the right to use land for a certain period, at the end of which the rights to the land and improvements revert to the lessor.
     

  2. The list of activities included in both TOD and TIZ precincts in the “zoning recommendations” portion of the city’s draft plan includes the following: Dwellings, multifamily; Group living facilities; Special needs housing for the elderly; Business services; Cabarets; Catering establishments; Convenience stores; Dance or music schools; Data processing facilities; Eating establishments; Financial institutions; Home occupations; Laboratories, medical; Laboratories, research; Medical clinics; Neighborhood grocery stores; Office buildings; Office, accessory; Personal services; Photographic services; Photographic processing; Photography studios; Plant nurseries; Real estate offices; Retail, accessory; Retail establishments; Travel agencies; Veterinary establishments; Boarding facilities; Consulates; Duplex units; Motion picture & television production studios; Art galleries & museums; Colleges, business; Day-care facilities; Hospitals; Meeting facilities; Public uses & structures; Schools, business; Schools; elementary, intermediate & high school; Schools, language; Schools, vocational, technical, industrial, & trade; Woodwork shops, machine shops or other similar features; Theaters; Universities, colleges; Commercial parking lots & garages; Joint use parking facilities; Parking facilities; Broadcasting stations; Historic structure, use of; Bars, nightclubs, taverns; Roomers/rooming; Trade or convention center; Off-site parking facilities; Off-site joint development; Amusement & recreation facilities, indoor. There are numerous other activities that are allowed in either TOD or TIZ precincts.
     

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